Privatized booze will cost more, says union

‘If there’s no savings to consumers, there will be no deal,’ Rich Coleman vows

From left: Union members Sonya Johnson

From left: Union members Sonya Johnson

Privatizing the Liquor Distribution Branch would not only cause the province to lose millions of dollars in revenue, it would also drive up liquor prices for consumers, according to the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union.

Nearly 40 union members armed with petitions circled the Cascades Casino parking lot on Tuesday evening, collecting signatures to “stop the Liquor Distribution Branch sell-off.” They were also hoping to catch the eye of Rich Coleman, minister responsible for the LDB, who was at the casino on Tuesday to speak to the annual meeting of the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce.

“(The LDB) is a public asset that has served the public for decades,” said Evan Stewart, communications officer for the BCGEU.

“Last year alone it produced in the region of $890 million of profit, and that’s provincial revenue that goes into building schools, hospitals and highways and looking after seniors.”

Since the privatization plan was announced in the budget speech in February, there has been no public consultation nor a business case presented to justify the sale, Stewart said.

He also believes this will cause prices to increase for consumers.

“I think British Columbians need to be aware that the system has worked for decades (and) has provided consistent pricing province wide. If you go into a liquor store in East Vancouver, right by the warehouse, or if you go to a liquor store in Fort St. John, the prices are the same,” he said.

“There’s certainly no assurance that if the warehouse and distribution service is privatized we’re going to have consistent, province-wide pricing. And I think there is a very real possibility that this privatization is going to drive up costs for consumers.”

Matt Phillips of Victoria’s Phillips Brewing Company, also a member the Craft Beer Association of B.C., has predicted that privatization could add between 75 cents to $1 on the cost of a six-pack of beer, Stewart said.

“A lot of the smaller brewers are happy with the service that LDB provides, and they are concerned that privatizing is going to drive up their costs,” he said.

Inside the building, Coleman did not address any liquor-related issues in his speech. However, he was asked a question about the privatization by a chamber member.

Asked why no business case had been prepared in advance of the Request for Proposals (RFP) that calls for responses from the private sector by June 30, Coleman said that the government instead did an analysis.

“What we have here is an old warehouse that is not very efficient. We could either go build a new warehouse or see if someone in the private sector wanted to come in with a proposal.

“We need to look to efficiencies, and the best way is to go to the private sector,” he said.

He also emphasized that part of the RFP requires that existing employees do not lose their jobs and remain as members of the union.

Coleman said the final decision on the privatization RFP will be made by a panel of civil servants and not by politicians, “and if there is no savings to consumers, we won’t do the deal.”

When he said that “we (government) do not usually run businesses very well,” the questioner responded. “It’s odd that government would say it’s not doing a great job.”

– with files from Frank Bucholtz